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  • Willpower: Rediscovering TheGreatest Human Strength



  • For years, our concept of the self and well-being has been dominated by the notion of self-esteem,

    while the old fashioned value of willpower has been disparaged by psychologists who argued that

    we're largely driven by unconscious forces beyond our control. In Willpower Baumeister and Tierney

    turn this misinformation on its head to reveal self-control as arguably the single most powerful

    indicator of success. Baumeister discovered that willpower actually has a physical basis to it: it is

    like a muscle that can be strengthened with practice, and fatigued from overuse. That's why eating

    and sleeping - and especially failing to do either of those - have such dramatic effects on

    self-control. Yet, while self-control is biologically rooted, we have the capacity to manipulate our

    nature. Willpower features personal stories from entrepreneurs, executives, parents and children

    who have managed to do just that. The characters range from Victorian explorers to modern

    homemakers, from college students pulling all nighters to entertainers. The practical lessons in

    self-control conditioning they provide are nothing short of life changing. Combining the best of

    modern social science with the practical wisdom of David Allen, Ben Franklin, and others,

    Baumeister and Tierney here share the definitive compendium of modern lessons in willpower.

    Audible Audio Edition

    Listening Length: 9 hoursand10 minutes

    Program Type: Audiobook

    Version: Unabridged

    Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio

    Audible.com Release Date: September 6, 2011

    Whispersync for Voice: Ready

    Language: English

    ASIN: B005LEV22A

    Best Sellers Rank: #28 inBooks > Health, Fitness & Dieting > Mental Health > Compulsive

    Behavior #65 inBooks > Audible Audiobooks > Nonfiction > Reference #189 inBooks >

    Audible Audiobooks > Health, Mind & Body > Psychology

    I have been contemplating on the subject of willpower for a while and was very excited to get this

    book when it came out. While there is a good amount of interesting material here on the science of

    self-control, overall, I would say this title didn't quite live up to my expectations.As one of the

  • reviewers pointed out, there is a multitude of different pop sci books out there. Some are written by

    the researchers themselves and others by journalists who digest and interpret the information

    second-hand. In my experience, there is a clear distinction in style between someone who is a

    primary subject matter expert and someone who is just synthesizing secondary information. The

    researcher-authors tend to focus more on the actual experiments, strike a decent balance between

    pop and hard science, do a much better job explaining the meaning of the findings, and are usually

    pretty cautious about overly extrapolating the results. Journalist-authors tend to err much more on

    the side of watering down the science (perhaps because they have an incomplete understanding

    themselves) and generally strike a "let me explain this to an idiot" type of tone.Unfortunately, despite

    the fact that this book is co-authored with the primary researcher, it really falls into the

    "journalist-author" bucket. I get a distinct impression that John Tierny was responsible for most of

    the writing, where Roy Baumeister is cited as an author only because the book is mostly based on

    his research. I think Tierny tries way too hard to oversimplify the science and calls on very extensive

    celebrity examples to illustrate some of the findings. I don't have a problem with "case studies", but I

    really don't need to read through pages upon pages about Drew Carey's disorganized personal life

    and how some fellow who claims to be a personal organizer guru helped Carey get his life back on

    track. Additionally, I didn't need extensive biography of Eric Clapton to explain self-control in case of

    alcoholism and the lengthy example of Oprah to illustrate the limitations of willpower when it comes

    to weight loss. I and probably 99% of the educated public understand the applications and

    implications of the research findings without having it explained in great detail through the lives of

    celebrities. At best, this tactic is a space filler and at worst, an insult to the reader's

    intelligence.Despite these major flaws, the book does contain a lot of interesting research. Probably

    the most important finding is that willpower behaves similarly to a muscle, in that it can be

    exhausted with overuse and trained with various exercises. The authors establish a clear case for a

    link between high self-control and improved life outcomes and discuss in detail the research behind

    the success of various techniques to boost willpower as well as the types of adverse events that can

    result from willpower depletion.Overall, I would still recommend this book to those who are

    interested in the subject of self-control and its implications. As I mentioned, there is a lot of good

    research described, I just wish the book didn't contain as much space filler regarding the "case

    studies" from lives of celebrities and generally adhered to a more intellectual prose rather than

    reading like a "science column" in a popular newspaper.

    There are few concepts in psychology with as much scientific support as the idea that willpower is a

  • limited resource and when its drained, people (and even dogs) have less willpower for whatever

    task is coming next in their lives. Perhaps the most sexy finding is that if you use a great deal of

    self-control or willpower in doing something you end up exhausted in whatever you do next that

    requires self-control even if it is completed unrelated to the first activity. For instance, you try to

    resist the sexual temptation of looking at beautiful women at work and without even knowing it, you

    end up physically weaker during your gym workout. This tends to happen when the two activities

    are back to back. Other people will be fascinated by the unusual ways that people can build up their

    reservoir of willpower. I won't give away the juice here.As a scientist, I am impressed with how the

    authors stay close to the science.As a reader, I relish the smooth writing style.As someone who

    wants to be entertained, I appreciate the great storytelling ability. For this reason, the ideas in this

    book are sticky.Honestly, I find it difficult to imagine an audience that would not benefit from reading

    this book. Educators. Policy makers. Parents. Self-help book fanatics. Therapists and coaches.

    People interested in why human beings do the things they do (that is, fans of psychology). If you

    disagree, let me know. Roy Baumeister is one of the most important psychologists alive and he is

    not afraid of taking risks and delving into what matters- sex, death, love, happiness, suicide, and

    even UFO abductions. Its about time people outside of science get a taste of his excellent

    contributions.I couldn't recommend this more strongly.cheers,Todd

    Roy Baumeister is a psychologist who has spent decades exploring how willpower works, and what

    exactly it is. Here, he teams up with journalist John Tierney to write a popular book surveying his

    and other folks' research on the subject. The result is somewhere between a work of social science

    and a self-help book. Not only do we get insights on how willpower works, but also get tips on how

    to make it work for us.Perhaps one of the most interesting (and in the field of psychology,

    controversial) Baumeister and Tierney detail several studies that have subjects to some hard

    decision making tasks, and move on to other moderate decision making tasks. The results: those

    who engaged in hard decision making tasks gave up quicker on the next round of tasks (as

    opposed to the control group who were given easier tasks first). Another interesting finding is that

    glucose increases one's self-control abilities, as evidenced by studies where some groups were

    giving a sugary soft-drink before engaging in self-control tasks (while others weren't) and, as a

    consequence, were better able to exercise self-control. (The authors are quick to tell us that they

    aren't endorsing large sugar intakes to increase self-control, but that protein consumption can also

    do the trick.)Later chapters focus on the idea that willpower works best when others are holding us

    accountable. There is a chapter detailing several websites that help people achieve their goals by

  • either posting results (budgetary, weight loss, etc) on a public space, or having us assign a friend or

    colleague to monitor our progress (and give rewards). Another chapter focuses on Alcoholics

    Anonymous and other groups whose success rate MAY be attributable to the fact that members are

    assigned sponsors, who offer encouragement, monitor progress, and let us know that we are not

    alone.Still other chapters focus on how we can strengthen our willpower with exercise. The finding

    here is that increasing one's willpower in one area has a spillover effect such that it helps willpower

    in other areas. As a personal example that jibes with this, I notice (and I know I'm not alone) that

    when I go to the gym regularly, I also become more disciplined in my work habits and eating habits.

    In other words, the more you accustom yourself to using your willpower, the easier it will become to

    use it.All of this is somewhat controversial, because so many books and articles of late have written

    in a way that deny, or seem to deny, the very existence of willpower. Books on genetic hardwiring of

    certain tendencies often have the effect of denying that we can control ourselves (or even that there

    is a "we" that controls "ourselves" at all). Baumeister was a skeptic of this type when he began his

    research, but became gradually convinced that willpower seems like a real phenommena that we

    can actually use to control ourselves.This is a very interesting read both for those who are curious

    about what the literature on willpower says, and for those who want some good and usable

    recommendations on how to use willpower in daily life.

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